Catholic Church to plug priest gap with laywomen

Deep in the Amazonian forest, young couples looking to wed or baptise children often turn to Sister Alba, who fills in where Catholic priests cannot be found.

But in many remote areas, there are not even enough nuns to go around, and it is laywomen who play a key role in the evangelisation of indigenous people.

Many Amazonian bishops present at a three-week assembly at the Vatican want the Roman Catholic Church to create official roles for them.

It is not a question of ordaining female priests. The very suggestion that the male-centric, centuries-old church could do that has thrown traditionalists into a tizzy, and it’s not a change Pope Francis is currently willing to contemplate.

Official status

There is interest, however, in giving laywomen official “ministries”, whether that be performing marriages or preaching.

“Two thirds of the indigenous communities without priests are guided by women,” says Bishop Erwin Krautler, an Austrian missionary.

While personally he sees “no reason why women cannot be ordained priests”, he thinks the debate should be focused now on female deacons — a potentially invaluable resource in far-flung corners of the world.


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